Meir Jolovitz
Meir JolovitzCourtesy
Former foreign correspondent for The New York Times David Shipler astutely observed many years ago: “Watching foreign affairs is sometimes like watching a magician; the eye is drawn to the hand performing the dramatic flourishes, leaving the other hand – the one doing the important job – unnoticed.”
Today, understandably, the magician appears to be pointing to the Russian assault on Ukraine. But that other hand – the Iranian hand – has something very different in mind. And too few notice.

So fast forward:

The date is August 27, 2024. Israel is under attack. In flames.
In Haifa, several explosions have crippled the city. Similar explosions being reported in several other cities and towns in Israel, it appears that the day everyone had feared might come – has come.
A year before, on August 27, 2023, as per the coalition agreement, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett cedes the premiership to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party.
It is phase two of a rotation agreement which catapulted Bennett to power with the formation of a left-leaning coalition government in June 2021. Recall that virtually all political commentators, analysts and pundits were skeptics when the coalition government was formed – between Israel’s liberal and leftist parties and made possible by the inclusion of three political parties that had promoted themselves as right-wing or right-leaning in the March 23, 2021 Israeli elections.

This government cannot survive, the experts all argued in concert, because the various parties that made up the new Israeli coalition had nothing in common. Except the will to seize power and govern, an undertaking made possible only with the removal of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-led government.

The three parties, each in its own time, were break-aways from Israel’s largest party – Likud – and had been elected to the Knesset with 737,000 collective votes, less than 17% of the total cast. Votes that represented an electorate that was deceived into thinking that it had voted for a nationalist camp – that by one description would be “10% more right wing” that that of the 12-year reign of Benjamin Netanyahu. These were the same parties – Yamina, Yisrael Beyteinu, and New Hope – which, in defiance of the promises made during the four elections held since 2019, disingenuously betrayed their supporters by joining forces with Mansour Abbas’s Ra’am party to form the present government. Yes, Ra’am, a party that promoted a virulent anti-Israel ideology, loyal to the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, and with close ties to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
There was indeed reason to be skeptical that the new government would survive the first cabinet debate or Knesset vote on any issue of any significance. Most had nothing in common.
But the commentators, analysts and pundits were wrong. Wrong, because they failed to recognize that these thieves in the night were united by a greater aspiration than their immediate commitment to their own self-stated ideologies. It was all about the need to grab and maintain power. Two opposing camps – the now-exposed pretenders to a Jewish nationalist agenda, and the Arab anti-Zionist radicals – understood one thing the experts seemed to underestimate. They would do anything to hold on to ruling power and avoid at all costs its collapse with a vote of no confidence.

Each of the parties that made up the newly-established left-leaning coalition government understood – as the polls in Israel would often remind them – that in any future election, none would ever have the opportunity to govern again. Some, the polls indicated, by virtue of their betrayal of the campaign promises they made prior to the March 2021 elections, might not even cross the threshold needed to be elected to the Knesset.

So, despite the frequent inter- and intra- clashes and arguments that have crippled the efficacy of the government’s ability to legislate on many matters in its first few years, it has survived. However, anyone paying close attention readily realizes that it was the coalition’s so-called right wing parties – a designation now scoffed at by any reasonable observer – that have surrendered their ideology, while the lone small Islamic party, still loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood’s vision of a Palestine that will be Judenrein, has held firm. If score was kept – Ra’am, propelled into a shared power with only 167,000 votes (and its four seats) wins, while Bennett, with his six mandates – enough to have made his way into power – loses.

The 53 billion shekels (that is $16.8 billion dollars for those without a calculator in hand) promised the Arab sector, was the greatest political payoff in Israel’s history. Add to that, the additional benefits – development regulations, guidelines, permits – which have subverted Israel’s infrastructure to the heretofore unanticipated advantages accorded Arab citizens, and not its Jewish citizens – and one realizes the price Israel has paid to defeat the old government, to be replaced by the new. For Abbas – the coalition agreement remains a gift that keeps on giving. Just keep threatening to bolt. And yet, for the anti-Netanyahu faction, still intoxicated with power, there would be a greater price to pay.
Meanwhile. In Vienna. Today.
Seemingly indifferent to the Russian invasion of Ukraine – in what most foreign policy experts have called the greatest assault on another nation’s sovereignty in many decades – the Americans were rushing to finalize a newer version of the 2015 Iranian nuke deal. The endeavor was quite transparent. Let’s get this done before Israel realizes something frequently proclaimed, by every prime minister, present and past: That Israel would always stand ready to defend itself without having to rely on the good graces, and often mercurial temperament, of it’s so-called friends. Correction: friend. The United States. Most remember Charles de Gaulle who proclaimed: “nations don’t have friends; only interests.”
Ukraine is not the first red flag.
It was preceded by the rapid fall of Afghanistan in August 2021 in a manner that was viewed universally as a betrayal by America. Defenders of Israel had taken notice. The common denominator between Kabul and Kiev was the promise by the United States that “we have your back.” The deceitful and dishonest American assurances were as hollow as is the American intelligence capability. Biden, Antony Blinken, Jake Sullivan, Lloyd Austin, and General Mark Milley – the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – were always the children in the room of adults. To be sure, the Iranian negotiators in Vienna were well-aware.
They were also aware that whatever commitments made by the United States to Israel to guarantee that Iran would not acquire a nuclear military capability were just as hollow. Rubbish.
The Israelis had heard that commitment as well, but in somewhat diluted terms, in quiet echoes by American officials in Vienna, following similar declarations made in private undertones in Washington and Jerusalem, in trying to assuage the Jewish State’s concerns about the development of any future Iranian nukes. The United States, Israel was assured, would understand that Jerusalem reserved the right to defend itself if circumstances created a situation that fell someplace between dangerous and dire. The same right, one would imagine, that was available to Ukraine.
A geostrategic comment. Yes, of course Israel has the military capability to defend itself. Indeed to crush any assault on its sovereignty in the Land of Israel. Israel will survive. After all, 4369 rockets that rained down from Gaza during eleven days in May are proof of that. The concern goes beyond its capability. It is about its resolve. Most troubling is Israel’s ever-present fear that it be condemned, internationally, for a disproportionate retaliatory reply to any act of aggression by its enemies. In Gaza, it led to a lack of response, when – with almost one-third of the nation retreating to sleeping in bomb shelters – Israel countered by “roof-knocking” as a warning to the belligerents who launched the strikes.

Today’s Israeli government has already informed the United States that it will not upset American, European, and yes, Russian, efforts to broker a new deal with the ayatollahs. It is a deal that only Israel seems to know is a disastrous misadventure. Still – the Israelis – pandering to the Biden Administration, have promised to behave.

Despite his initial denials in June 2021, it seems clear today that Lapid has indeed promised the United States that there would be “no surprises” with a strike against Iran, an opinion supported by both Naftali Bennett and Benny Gantz. Even as Iran boasts of advancing its nuclear and intercontinental missile capabilities. This shared policy commitment, reiterated several times in the past two months, is intended to demonstrate that the “new” government will be more cooperative, more genteel, than that of the last. Another dart thrown at Netanyahu.
The problem is that Israel might indeed keep its commitment not to interfere – while the United States – as well as Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany – very well will not hold Iran to keep its end of any agreed-upon deal.
So, let’s fast forward, again.
It is August 27, 2024. And parts of Israel are in flames. Entire neighborhoods in Haifa have been destroyed by missiles launched by Hezbollah. Missiles that carried a low-grade nuclear warhead. Provided by the Islamic Republic of Iran, which sits on the sidelines as observers as its proxies do the dirty work. Hamas, to complicate matters for Israel, launches Iranian-manufactured missiles from the south as well, from an arsenal replenished after its cease fire with Israel in 2021.
This time, Israel’s casualties are not counted by mere handfuls. They are in the thousands. And it appears that Israel’s good behavior as a gesture of cooperation with the United States – and as a byproduct of not wishing to upend the Lapid-Bennett-Gantz-Abbas government with a vote of “no confidence” – has been catastrophic.
Back to reality. To a wake-up call that isn’t being heeded.
August 27, 2024. Or maybe 2025. The day that too few actually thought would come.
Meir Jolovitz is a past national executive director of the Zionist Organization of America, and formerly associated with the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies.